Chapter 17 – The Psychedelic Blues Band

Forming our new band began with a rocky start. Although there were plenty of guys who claimed to be drummers we had a hard time recruiting one who was percussively viable. Dan and I had developed our own criteria of where we wanted to take our music. We felt that a drummer should be seen and not heard. There is a fine line between complementary back-beat and the sound of someone banging on a stretched animal skin.

To fill the position of bass player we ended up settling on a fellow who was fairly well established in the local music scene. His contacts were useful but we never gelled as a cohesive group. His tastes ran more to blaring horns – in my opinion, clownish flamboyance.

Our first venue was a “Battle of the Bands” organized by St. Joseph Catholic School in Farmington. In a “Battle of the Bands”, the audience votes for their favourite band. The winning band gets paid. It turned out that the opposing band was made up of students from the Catholic School in nearby Fredericktown and they had a loyal following at St. Jo’s. They were so loyal that after voting once, the acolytes rejoined the voting line and casted vote after vote for their brethren. The final tally was 532 to 45 – a phenomenal result since there were only around 100 kids in attendance. The thought of losing was no big deal. The problem was that because we had rented an additional amplifier and PA system we were left out of pocket. My demand that a special council be formed to re-establish democracy fell on deaf ears.

To this day, I can’t understand the logic behind our next outing. It will go down in history as an example of when not to entertain an audience. The Viet Nam war was raging and with it – sadness – even in small town America. A young soldier was coming home in a casket.

It is hard to understate the dark cloud hanging over the country during this period. Young men were risking their lives in an ambiguous bloody conflict while on the home front there were protests against the war. I was rapidly approaching the age of eighteen and mandatory draft registration. One way or another, whether you had to go to war or not, the spectre of compulsory military service was always present.

Sandy, my girl-friend (and 5th cousin) in cahoots with the lady (also a relative) whose family owned the funeral home, wanted to do something nice for the attending Army Honour Guard. They press ganged our band to entertain the Honour Guard at the funeral home on the evening before the young soldier’s funeral. From the start it seemed to me to border on bad taste. But, patriotic and family pressures made it hard to refuse.

That night, we set up our equipment in the chapel and tried to put on a brave face. All the Honour Guard detail wanted to do was head into town, schmooze with the local chicks and have a few beers. Needless to say the atmosphere was not conducive to Rock and Roll. Between songs, I looked around and Dan’s guitar was lying on the floor. I rushed outside just in time to see Dan running up the middle of Columbia Street – heading for home with a bad case of “white line fever!”

On the heels of our first two gigs we finally caught a break. Our sister Debbie was friends with an aspiring drummer named Mark Hogenmiller. At the age of 15 Mark had already earned a reputation for being a young rebel. At Debbie’s urging, Dan and I reluctantly agreed to give him an informal audition. We had already exhausted the pool of local “animal skin bangers” and our expectations were low.

At the back of our house there was a garage with a tiny windowless room we used for rehearsal. Dan and I furnished the room with exotic paraphernalia the family had collected during our world travels; oriental carpets, a Japanese ceremonial table and some mystical brass lanterns from Pakistan. Our latest addition was an impressive Fender amplifier. The cabinet held two 15 inch speakers and a bolt-on head utilizing state of the art rectifier tubes producing 50 watts of unmitigated power. We called it our “Groovy Room”.

After helping Mark set up his drum kit in the “Groovy Room” we played the instrumental surf hit “Wipe Out”. In the middle of the song there is a prolonged drum solo which pushes drummers to the limit. Back in Texas, we had a drummer who during the “Wipe Out” solo actually started sobbing and begged us to stop. When we got to the drum solo Mark played beat for beat. The longer we played, the stronger he got. Mark became a bona fide member of our tribe and the “Groovy Room” was the first to experience “The Psychedelic Blues Band”.

The music scene was changing – that year, the Beatles stopped touring, marking the beginning of the legendry band’s break-up. Suddenly there was less, “wanna hold your hand” and a growing trend towards innovation and creativity. A band that got our attention was Cream. The three members were terrible role models but with just two guitars and drums they captured their audience.

At the same time we discovered that our bass player was moonlighting with another band. Venues for rock bands were limited in small town Missouri. Every gig he played with the other band was one that we lost. More importantly, you can’t belong to two tribes at the same time… bye-bye Mr. Bass Man.

Since we were deviating from the traditional four piece rock ensemble we decided to rework our repertoire. The result was a cleaner, leaner sound showcasing the individual skills of three dedicated musicians.

As “The Psychedelic Blues Band” we strived to put on a psychedelic show. My Dad came to the rescue with a revolutionary device of his own design that eclipsed any visual stage prop anyone has seen before or since. He mounted a washing machine motor on a low wooden table then wired up a rheostat to control the speed of the motor. Next to the motor he mounted a 1000 watt spotlight. Then he cut out a giant cardboard disk complete with a slice (like a piece of pie) out of the edge, painted it florescent orange and secured it to the motor. Using the rheostat to control the pulsating light, we could match the beat of whatever song we were playing. Caution had to be exercised because the motor had so much power that even at half speed the table wanted to take to the air like a demented drone.

Our “Psycho Strobe” created an immediate response whenever we used it. In smaller venues, the “un-cool” usually screamed, “TURN IT OFF”. In larger venues the entire audience gyrated wildly to the mind numbing optical extravaganza! Thanks Dad!

Another item in our “Psychedelic” effects arsenal was a powerful ultraviolet black light. Our black light was eventually banned because when girls would dance close to the bandstand it appeared like they were dancing in bra and panties only. Sometimes you must “push the envelope” for your art.

We soon got offers to play gigs all over the area. A favourite venue was for dances in the small town of Potosi in the next county. The kids in Potosi had a reputation for wild behaviour which from firsthand experience, proved to be well deserved.

We even played for my own high school graduation dance. After the graduation ceremony, I took off my hat and gown and headed straight to Long Memorial Hall in downtown Farmington to once again blow the roof of the building.

Lack of equipment was becoming a problem. Back when we had a bass player we were able to share the equipment load between his and our amplifiers. Our Fender amp was more than adequate for two guitars, but adding microphones caused a major problem. When we sang, our voices would knock the volume of our guitars down to a whisper. If a venue did not supply a PA (public address) system for vocals we rented an additional Fender amplifier from a guy who played in another local band.

When the system worked, it was fantastic. A case in point was a performance at the Farmington National Guard Armory when we teamed up with a professional stage band out of St. Louis for a night of raucous music in the giant hangar-sized armory. The stage band, complete with a blaring horn section, would play one set and we would play the next. We alternated between bands for a memorable five hour rockfest.

Backed up by hefty twin Fender amplifiers – Dan, Mark and I put out a virtual wall of sound. We interspersed our range of current hit covers with marathon twenty minute instrumental improvisations. The stage band was so impressed with our powerhouse performance they divided the ticket money taken for the night’s full house equally between the two bands.

At the height of our guitarisimo a friend volunteered to record us playing a selection of our music. We set up the tape recorder in the “Groovy Room” and laid down fantastic one-take examples of our music. Today, we have so much technology at our fingertips; it seems incredible that we had no way to duplicate our recording. In an effort to promote our band, I sent the tape to a night club in Cape Girardeau. I never heard from the night club or our tape again. I sure wish I had that tape now.

Around that time, Dad got transfer orders for a move to England. We were all excited about the move but our band had one more musical excursion on the horizon. It’s always good to go out on a high note – sometimes things don’t go as planned.

The “Psychedelic Blues Band” was in demand. For our final fling we committed to two performances both on the same day as a grand finale. The first gig was a mid-day outdoor political rally in Bonne Terre. When we finished there we would pack up our gear and travel up the road forty miles for a night of magic at the Magic Carpet Lounge in Festus.

Intending to repeat our wall of sound configuration, I contacted the guy who rented us his Fender amplifier. “NO CAN DO” was his reply! As I mentioned, the guy played in another local band… the same band that our former bass player belonged to. Ironically, band politics were going to have a direct impact on our final performance. I suppose I can’t really blame them – the other band had also been playing at the Magic Carpet Lounge and they had not gone down well.

I had a card up my sleeve… we were loyal customers of Marler’s music store in Flat River. Surely they would they step-up and loan us an amplifier to tie us over for the big day. On the fateful morning we stopped by the music store and were met with a cold reception. Eventually, I negotiated a non-descript no name, beat-up amplifier as a “loner” from an un-receptive sales clerk.

When we set up our equipment in the park at Bonne Terre and broke into the classic hit “Pipeline” leaves started falling off the trees – our “loner” amp had a busted speaker and could only produce an ear shattering screech. Somehow we made it through the session but all three members of “The Psychedelic Blues Band” were deflated, demoralized and dejected. Especially since we knew we had to repeat the process all over again that night.

I wish I could say everything turned out alright. The previous band had soured the clientele at the Magic Carpet Lounge to the point that there were only two bar flies in attendance the whole night. The manager blamed our drastically reduced audio output.

Mark summed up our final “Double Screecher” performance succinctly when we were loading up for the journey home. Sitting on the curb, holding his head in his hands, he moaned, “We’ve been skunked.”

We weren’t really “skunked” – It just felt that way for a little while. Halfway during our drive home we started laughing at the bizarre events of that day. Although we wished things had turned out better, past performances were proof to us of our musical prowess. We had some wild and wonderful memories but that was the last time that Dan and I performed in a band together.

The TPF (Travelling Peek Family) were on the move again. Adios Missouri – Jolly Old England here we come! Dad and Mom rented out the family home to a doctor and his family; we loaded up the station wagon and headed for New York City where we boarded the SS United States.